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The Daily Tar Heel

A drum set starts a beat. Another layers on top of it. Then another. Suddenly there are five drum sets all playing in sync. They stop, and giggles and laughter from the musicians begin.

These are the sounds of a specific moment during a break at a Girls Rock NC summer camp, described by Cal Vicenta, the operations manager of GRNC.

Girls Rock is a nonprofit that aims to nurture a safe and inclusive community — providing girls, transgender and gender-expansive youth a space to explore their identity, create music and learn about intersectional gender justice.

GRNC holds weeklong summer camps where youth learn new instruments, create a band and write and perform original songs at a showcase for family, friends and GRNC members.

Vicenta said that watching the campers connect, even during breaks, is the best thing about being a part of GRNC.  

At workshops during camp, kids learn about the historic roots of music, especially Black influence on rock music. A variety of local artists also perform at lunchtime to expose campers to music from different genres, races and genders. 

When Liona Stebbins got involved with GRNC as a camper at 14 years old, she said she was surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to talk about their sexuality and life experiences. Now a GRNC youth mentor of two years, Stebbins describes her journey as coming full circle. 

Stebbins always wanted to play music with other people, and she said GRNC provided resources for her to perform and create a band — called Hypnic Jerks — with other youth mentors. She described the end of camp showcase as a special and supportive environment for the campers. 

“It's one of the safest spaces I've ever been in,” Stebbins said. "This is very blunt, but people don't care if you're good at playing music, they just want you to feel empowered through it. They create such a safe space for these kids to explore finding their own sound and mastering their instrument. The showcases are full of people who are just there to support you."

Emmie Galloway attended GRNC summer camp, was a youth mentor and recently had her first summer as an adult volunteer. She said she is inspired by the campers' joy, passion and creativity, and feels lucky to be a part of a place where being unique and open through art is celebrated.

Hema Gaia, team coordinator at GRNC, said when they started volunteering at GRNC, it was the first time they didn’t feel belittled for being a new musician.

Gaia began as a volunteer in 2016. GRNC is almost entirely volunteer-based and transformative for both volunteers and campers.

They became a camp counselor after two years and moved to their current position in their fourth year.

“It does make a big difference, having to go a full week without interacting with cis men," Gaia said. "I didn't notice how much it affected me at that point in my life, where, when I went to camp, I didn't care what I was wearing, I didn't care how I looked. I felt really free in just what I could say and how I could act and how I could be there. That was really life-changing.”

Vicenta started working with GRNC as an intern in 2018 and has been involved with them since.

Vicenta described GRNC as a welcoming space for them to get back into music and explore their gender expression. They said GRNC was their first professional space with a true culture of inclusivity, which continues to be nurtured in younger generations.

“You have six-year-olds who are sitting there like, 'These are my pronouns. This is how I identify,'" Vicenta said. "You have trans voices coming into the space, and they're exploring their identity and it's so affirming to see that there's a world where the fact that my gender is different from what society has dictated is not an issue.” 

GRNC also provides a program for adults, Rock Roulette, where registrants are placed into bands and perform at a showcase to fundraise for GRNC. This year’s showcase will be held on March 11 at The Fruit in Durham. 

GRNC hopes to change their name within the next year to increase inclusivity. Community members are invited to join their name change committee.

No matter the name, GRNC will keep the same goal: teach girls, trans and gender-expansive youth to take up space and make noise.

@dthlifestyle |

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